A BUNCH of American scientists reckon they have come up with a “revolutionary” process for converting plant sugars into hydrogen which could be used to cheaply and efficiently power vehicles equipped with hydrogen fuel cells without producing any pollutants.
One scientist involved with the project said: “This has opened up a whole new direction in hydrogen research. With technology improvement, sugar-powered vehicles could come true eventually.”
It is described as the world’s most efficient method for producing hydrogen. That’s what they claim, but what’s the recipe?
The process involves combining plant sugars, water and a cocktail of powerful enzymes to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide under mild reaction conditions.
The new approach apparently gets around the three major technical barriers to the so-called “hydrogen economy” – something of an energy “holy grail”.
Those barriers are: how to produce low-cost, sustainable hydrogen; how to store hydrogen, and how to distribute it efficiently.
While regarded as a clean, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, hydrogen production is expensive and inefficient.
Most traditional commercial production methods rely on fossil fuels such as natural gas, while innovations like microbial fuel cells still yield low levels of hydrogen. The American team that claims the sugar-powered car may be just around the corner believe they have found the most promising hydrogen-producing system to date from plant biomass.
They also believe they can produce hydrogen from cellulose, which has a similar chemical formula to starch but is far more difficult to break down.
Incredibly, the vision is that, one day, people will be able to go to their local supermarket and buy packets of solid starch or cellulose and pack it into the fuel tank of their fuel-cell car.
Then it’s a pollution-free drive to their destination – cheaper, cleaner and more efficient than even the most fuel-stingy petrol or diesel-dependent car.
And unlike cars that burn fossil fuel, the new system would not produce smelly exhaust gases. Not only that, such a system would be safe because the hydrogen produced is consumed immediately.
Alternatively, the new plant-based technology could even be used to develop an infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations or even home-based filling stations.
A scaled-down version of the same technology could conceivably be used to create more powerful, longer-lasting sugar batteries for portable music players, laptops and mobile phones.